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World Juniors 2016: Team USA preview

Will a high flying forward corps led by Auston Matthews make its way back to the medal round this year in Helsinki?

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

After winning a gold medal in 2013, the United States has failed to take home a medal in the past two tournaments, and they'll look to change that trend this year. Despite opening the 2015 tournament with a win against a very good Finland team, and two shutouts against Slovakia and Germany, they fell short against their toughest competition.

The team dropped a 5-3 decision to Canada in a wild round-robin game, and then losing 3-2 in an undisciplined quarter-final affair against Russia knocked them out of medal contention. The good news for the Americans is that their offense is absolutely loaded at forward. Led by the likely first overall draft pick Auston Matthews, the offense should score in bunches, and it will be up to the defense and goaltending to hold up.

Roster

# Player Pos League Current Team (NHL)
36 Brandon Halverson G OHL Sault Ste. Marie (NYR)
31 Alex Nedeljkovic G OHL Flint (CAR)
8 Louie Belpedio (A)
D NCAA Miami University (MIN)
2 Will Borgen D NCAA St. Cloud State (BUF)
26 Brandon Carlo D WHL Tri-City (BOS)
5 Brandon Fortunato D NCAA Boston University
4 Chad Krys D USHL USNTP U-18
25 Charlie McAvoy D NCAA Boston University
13 Zach Werenski (C)
D NCAA University of Michigan (CLB)
10 Anders Bjork F NCAA Notre Dame (BOS)
23 Brock Boeser F NCAA North Dakota (VAN)
12 Alex DeBrincat F OHL Erie
19 Ryan Donato F NCAA Harvard (BOS)
11 Christian Dvorak F OHL London (ARZ)
14 Scott Eansor F WHL Seattle
21 Ryan Hitchcock F NCAA Yale
17 Ryan MacInnis F OHL Kitchener (ARZ)
34 Auston Matthews (A)
F Swiss NLA ZSC Lions
28 Sonny Milano F AHL Lake Erie (CLB)
9 Nick Schmaltz F NCAA North Dakota (CHI)
7 Matthew Tkachuk F OHL London
18 Colin White (A) F NCAA Boston College (OTT)

Strengths

The most obvious strength of Team USA is its potent scoring potential. The scarier part is them leaving point-per-game players like Jeremy Bracco and Kyle Connor of the team, yet still fielding one of the deepest groups in the tournament.

The scoring leader is likely to be Auston Matthews, but they're insanely deep beyond him. He should be closely followed by Matthew Tkachuk, who is also likely to be a top-10 pick in this year's draft.

Weaknesses

Team USA has two major things working against them going into this year's tournament. Their defensive group isn't the deepest, and outside of Brandon Carlo and Zach Werenski, they're lacking experience at the event. Of course, the Carolina Hurricanes refusing to loan Noah Hanifin for the tournament, and the IIHF ruling Jake Walman ineligible are both big blows for the team.

The second major weakness is the American side opting for a clear top six/bottom six divide among forwards. Despite being a very good overall group, they left a lot of good talent on the sidelines, and that could hurt them against top teams like Canada and Sweden. It's a flaw that has hampered the Americans in the past, and it might do so again this year.

X-Factor

The focus is clear this year for Team USA; come back home with a medal, and they may very well do that. It just might be difficult to do if the forwards have trouble creating chemistry, and aren't creating enough scoring chances. Playing in a group that includes the surprising resilient Danish and Swiss teams, in addition to Canada and Sweden will provide a stern test for the Americans.

If they're lucky, their high powered top-six forwards will score enough to cover the weaknesses of the team. At worst, they don't, and the Americans head home without a medal for the third straight year.